Fran Halpin - Gender Imbalance in the Art World

By Tiana Binns

It is time to say ENOUGH to the gender imbalance in the art world. Fran Halpin, artist from Tallaght, and two other Irish female artists are doing just that – they have been invited to the global exhibition, $€X¥ Gstaad, to represent the Irish Female cohort.

$€X¥ Gstaad inaugural exhibition, which stands for Secure, Enthusiast, Exponential and Young at heart takes place at Huus Gstaad Hotel in Switzerland on February 28 to March 1.

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Artist Fran Halpin


The other two Irish artists invited to this prestigious event are Miriam Fitzgerald Juskova from Cavan and Niamh O’Connor from Monaghan.

The three women are currently building successful art businesses using digital marketing, social media and networking skills, alongside traditional approaches to break into the art world.

“We are the next generation of working artists who cannot solely rely on galleries and curators to validate our work in order to make a living. We are proud to represent Ireland alongside 35 other countries as we stand together to say ENOUGH to gender imbalance in the artworld,” Fran said.

This exhibition is the first step towards an all-female art exhibition, managed by women for women that hopes to start a conversation that contributes to an exchange of ideas around gender, sexuality and culture.

Where are you from and what is your background in art?

So, I’m from Tallaght originally, but I have done a lot of work internationally as a full-time commercial artist. I graduated from the Dublin Institute of Technology in 1997 and studied Fine Arts there and have been creating art since.

Growing up, my family was working class, my dad being a milkman, so nothing was really ever handed to me. I paid my way through college myself and had to work very hard to get where I am today.

At first, I started out painting murals around Dublin and just recently transitioned into doing solo work. In 2018, I had my first solo exhibition and most of my work now focuses on making memories with my own children which mirrors my childhood memories with my father.

I’m a full-time artist now and have been nominated as Tallaght Person of the Year twice. At the end of the month myself and two other artists, Miriam Fitzgerald Juskova and Niamh O’Connor, will be travelling to Switzerland for an exhibition on the gender imbalance in the art world today.

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No place like home

What is your process like for creating a piece or collection and how long does it take?

Well, for larger pieces, like the one that will be in the exhibition in Switzerland, it took about a month to paint. That piece is around 120x120 centimetres. It probably took around 200 hours in total and I used five layers of paint.

I started with a water-based acrylic paint and moved to another type of acrylic paint that sort of acts like oil paint for the top layers. It’s a full-time job for me though, it’s not a hobby.

So, in the morning I’ll take my kids to school and then I’ll work on my pieces from 10am to 4pm like the hours I would have in most any job.

What inspires you to create your art?

For my latest collection, it really focuses on making memories with my own children which mirror my childhood memories with my father when he would take us to the Dodder River. Most of my solo works depict the beach, rivers and pebbles, which are all based on memories with my family.

My father would take us kids to the river and we would collect rocks and skim them across the water. My childhood memories were immersed in nature. My father loved skimming stones and spending time with his children outdoors to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city life.

We spent our leisure time along the banks of a river close to our family home where my fascination with water and specifically wet pebbles was born. Stones on beaches prompt people to pick them, hold them, possibly skim them and more often than not, keep them, like a treasure.

Memories are our treasures and now taking my kids to go collect special pebbles at the beach or the river has become a special memory for my family and I. My work reminds us of the simple treasures that are all around us.

How has your art and your view on art changed from when you started as an artist full-time until now?

I went straight from college to being self-employed. I have worked on various art projects for different designers and this is always how I made my living. I didn’t believe I could make a living painting my own stuff, until two years ago when I finally found the courage to book my first solo show.

This was really scary and so exciting. I actually sold 80 per cent of my collection before the opening night. I did this through social media. My attitude changed towards being an artist when I realised I didn’t need to go through the galleries, I could be in charge of my own destiny.

You just need to put in the hard work.

Can you tell me a bit more about the $€X¥ Gstaad exhibition in Switzerland?

The event is all about providing emerging women artists, who are not represented by major galleries, exhibition space. Global statistics show that under thirty per cent of galleries represent female artists, so the work this exhibition is doing is really important.

Fifty-five emerging women artists from 35 countries will be showcased and have the opportunity to discuss their respective works. All the art has been curated by a group of feminist art curators called, ArtsFemin.

The group is dedicated to empowering women through art by redressing the gender imbalance in the art world. There are also two other women from Ireland who have been invited to this exhibition.

Niamh O’Connor, who was born in Dublin, but now resides in Monaghan is exhibiting her piece, ‘Safe House’. Miriam Fitzgerald Juskova, who was born in Slovakia, but now lives in Cavan will exhibit her work, ‘Paper on Edge’, which is based on an old traditional technique of paper quilling that combines her passion for mathematics and geometry.

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Skimming Stones

What does it mean to you to be a woman in the art world and what advice do you have to young women artists?

It’s brilliant to be a woman in art today. We have more opportunities than we’ve ever had even though there is still that gender imbalance. I hadn’t actually noticed that imbalance myself, however, until I started doing my research into the exhibition in Switzerland.

My work though does focus on myself being a mother and an artist and what that means to me. It’s very family-centric. I think I started off my art career holding myself to a certain standard and I’ve always kept that. I create what I think is my best work personally.

To future young women artists, my best advice is to create art that you enjoy. Make the art you want and if it’s not initially well-received, don’t give up. Keep trying and creating your art and a door will open for you.

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